No one person or organisation owns all the problems related to climate change. Conversely, no one owns all the solutions either, says Dr Darian McBain, the new chief sustainability officer at the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS).

In October, McBain joined MAS after six years at Thai Union Group, the world’s largest seafood producer, where she last served as global director of corporate affairs and sustainability. “I was living in Bangkok, where Thai Union Group is headquartered. I had the opportunity to work with people from the global supply chains, but I was particularly focused on Southeast Asia,” says McBain, who is Australian.

On the surface, the business of aquaculture and a role in a financial industry regulator may sound worlds apart. Yet, speaking to The Edge Singapore, McBain draws a link between sustainable finance and her work protecting the oceans while employed by the seafood giant.

“When I was working at Thai Union, I was very much looking at the oceans. Obviously, nobody owns the oceans, so you need to have collaborative solutions,” says McBain. “It’s about identifying whom you can partner with. Whom can you work with to have the greatest impact and outcome?”

“With MAS, it’s taking that perspective as a regulator, as a central bank and as the developer of Singapore as a financial centre. How can you bring all of those functions together to have the greatest impact, whether that is on the low-carbon future, reducing climate risk or reducing inequalities and increasing resilience.”


McBain: I see technology as a great enabler. [Across] data, definition and disclosures, technology has a role to play in all of those

Supply chain reform

McBain left Thai Union in a much better state than when she first joined in 2015. Brought on board amid a labour scandal for the seafood company, McBain later implemented a sustainable fisheries plan and, in 2017, brokered an unlikely deal with environmental activist group Greenpeace on supply chain reform.

McBain holds a PhD in social indicators for global supply chain analysis and a Master’s degree in business strategy, politics and environment. She brings with her more than two decades of experience in sustainability and environmental protection, including the New South Wales Environment Protection Authority in Australia and the National Health Service in the UK.

See: MAS sets up sustainability group, appoints chief sustainability officer

“[It] really brought together all of my different experiences. I’ve worked with government, non-government, inter-government and the private sector,” she says. “At Thai Union, we were looking at green bonds, sustainability-linked loans [and] sustainability-linked bonds; I could see that sustainable finance was a really strong tool for encouraging sustainable change and making it last.”

At MAS, McBain helms a new group tasked to steer sustainability efforts across the central bank in its other role as the industry regulator. The group also coordinates MAS’s green finance and sustainability agenda.

See: MAS entrusts asset managers with US$1.8 bil to build sustainability hubs in Singapore

See also: NUS, MAS form new green finance institute, ready by end-2021

This includes strengthening the financial sector’s resilience against environmental risks, developing a vibrant green finance ecosystem to support Asia’s transition to a low-carbon future, identifying strategic green finance collaborations with regional and international counterparts and reducing MAS’s own carbon and environmental footprint.

“It’s very exciting that MAS has set up the new sustainability group; we’ve got a new team, and I’m really looking forward to working with them,” says McBain, who is also in charge of setting the agenda for MAS’s Green Finance Steering Committee, chaired by managing director Ravi Menon.


Key themes of MAS’s inaugural Sustainability Report

MAS set out the Green Finance Action Plan in November 2019. “So, there’s already a number of different work streams taking place, such as the environmental risk management guidelines and working with the Singapore Exchange on a potential roadmap for climate-related disclosures,” says McBain.

“I think the sustainability group can help bring all these different threads together to make sure that we have an oversight of all of the different actions that are taking place, while also considering the greatest impacts we can have through the work we’re doing.”

‘Great enabler’

Ahead of the Singapore FinTech Festival 2021, how does McBain plan to include technology into MAS’s sustainability work?

“I see technology as a great enabler. I’ll call on something that I heard MAS managing director Ravi mention in a speech recently, which is the ‘three D’s’ — data, definition and disclosures. Technology has a role to play in all of those,” she notes.

For her, the way to manage environmental risks is to start with good quality data. “If I may give an example from the Thai Union, when we set up sustainability-linked loans, one of the criteria was to install electronic monitoring systems on fishing vessels to analyse fishery stocks and biodiversity.”

The ability to collect data can have longer term impacts on how we consider “big challenges” like climate change or biodiversity, she adds. “On ‘definition’, MAS, and particularly the sustainability group, will have a strong focus on taxonomy.”

“If you look at how you name things and make sure that the financial industry in Singapore can speak with the rest of Asia, Europe and the US; that all relies on having a sound and interoperable taxonomy, [to] understand what they’re saying.”

“Lastly, on ‘disclosures’, technology has an important role to play in how different financial institutions, companies and governments can share information that is usable and timely.”

‘Blue finance’

As McBain draws on her rich experience in conservation, what does she see ahead for the region’s environment?

“I think Singapore and the Asean region are so integrally linked to the oceans. We talk a lot about green finance but I hope that we can also start to look at blue finance, in terms of the role that the oceans will play, both in delivering climate change solutions, but also in livelihoods, health and well-being,” she says.

Mangroves, or groups of trees and shrubs that grow near coastlines, store more carbon per unit area than terrestrial forests, say researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS).

More on mangroves: Asia Pacific carbon projects can generate US$25 bil each year for 30 years: NUS CNCS

In September, Temasek pledged $3 million to implement a fiveyear research programme. The new NUS-Temasek Blue Carbon Project builds on nearly a decade of research in measuring blue carbon, particularly in mangroves and sea grasses.

As Asean’s green potential comes to light, McBain is breaking new ground as she embarks on her new role. “I don’t think many central banks around the world have a chief sustainability officer yet. It’s a unique opportunity for myself, and also for Singapore, to really see the impact that a central bank can have in ensuring a sustainable future.” 

Photos: Monetary Authority of Singapore